Gunmen abducted two Turkish Airlines crew members from their bus in Beirut, Lebanon’s official National News Agency said, and a Shiite group claimed it had carried out the kidnapping.
The vehicle was stopped by at least eight men as it headed to a hotel from the city’s airport early today, the agency said. It identified the men as captain Murat Akpinar and his co-pilot Murat Agga. Lebanon’s Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said the two were taken at 3 a.m.
A group calling itself “Zuwwar Imam Reda” claimed responsibility for the abduction, NNA said. The imam is an Islamic leader revered by Shiites.
The group demanded the release of nine Lebanese Shiites held by Syrian rebels. The men were seized last year in Syria near the border with Turkey, which has sided with the opposition battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Families of the abductees have said Turkey has influence over the rebels and isn’t doing enough to free them. Shiite protesters, who have rallied against Turkish interests in Lebanon have threatened to escalate the demonstrations.
The families’ spokesman, Daniel Shuaib “thanked” the group that claimed the abduction, saying “there’s no other option” to free the nine, NNA said.
Sheikh Abbas Zoughaib, who has been deputized by Lebanon’s Supreme Shiite Council to follow up on the Lebanese held by the rebels, told NNA that the families of the hostages don’t have anything to do with today’s incident.
“But if we had known about it, we would have encouraged it,” Zoughaib said. “The Turks have been manipulating the emotions of the Lebanese for more than a year.”
If today’s kidnapping aims at resolving the issue of the Lebanese hostages “then we call on everyone to stand by the party behind it,” he added.
Lebanese officials have traveled to Turkey on several occasions seeking their help in freeing the Lebanese. He said this month that the abductee’s issue depends on the Turkey.